Shell Game
Margaret Bryan, Patti Hutchins

Papa Bear Awards 20052005 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Drama

Papa Bear Awards 20052005 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Challenge - 200th Mission Challenge

Papa Bear Awards 20052005 Papa Bear Awards - Second Place
Best Portrayal of a Canon Character - Colonel Wilhelm Klink

Papa Bear Awards 20052005 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Overall Story

Papa Bear Awards 20072007 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Lifetime Getaway Award

This Game is threefold. It’s overall theme is the story of Wilhelm Klink’s post-war struggle with the truths that have shaped his life so far, and of his coming to terms with those truths that will determine his future.

Secondly, as die-hard HH fans know, the character of Sergeant Baker replaced the character of Sergeant Kinchloe, with no explanation given, during the last season of the television show.  This will be our attempt to explain Ivan Kinchloe’s conspicuous absence from Stalag 13 toward the end of the war, because in our continuing Game Universe, he remained a very active member of Papa Bear’s operation up until, and through, the end of the war.

And finally, this is also our response to the 200th Mission Challenge offered on the Hogan’s Heroes’ Smartgroups List by Lauren (The Oboe One). Sorry Lauren, hope you don’t mind, but we took a little poetic license with your 200th mission idea. We hope you can still enjoy it! Thanks for the inspiration!

And another thank you goes to Jeff Evans for supplying us with the title ‘Shell Game’.

We again do not make any claims on the original Hogan’s Heroes’ characters. All other characters are ours.  But again, those characters are free for anyone to use, if you so choose.

Our rating for this story would be PG-13. Enjoy!

Shell Game

There are only three sports:
Bullfighting, Motor Racing, and Mountaineering;
All the rest are merely games.
Ernest Hemingway

Hammelburg, Germany, Headquarters of the US Military Governor,
Office of Captain Ivan Kinchloe, Aide to Major General Robert Hogan, Military Governor
November 20, 1945, 0730 Hours

Ivan Kinchloe had come into the office early this morning.  He was excited, anxious, and worried about what Rob Hogan would think of the brand spankin’ new hard cover book he’d left on his desk. Ivan hoped that the man, still well-known as Papa Bear, would accept his present gracefully, but he was just as worried that Rob would hate everything about it, especially since Ivan never told him anything about his involvement with it. Rob, to this day, continues to shy away from publicity. It’s just that this incredible opportunity landed at my, and Edgar’s, feet. Thanks to Karl. We just couldn’t pass up the chance to tell our story. I just hope Rob can understand what it means to us, and ultimately what his operation has meant to the world.

“Good morning Ivan,” Rob said with a bang of his hand on his aide’s desk, after seeing that his friend was staring somewhere… way off in space. “Everything okay buddy? This isn’t the day to be daydreaming, not with the trials starting. There’s too much to keep track of today, between the heightened security, the prisoner transfers, and the…”

“Huh?” Ivan interrupted perplexed, and anxious, after realizing that he hadn’t even heard Rob come in. “Oh sorry, everything’s fine Rob. Our guys are on top of all that. Really.  Everything’s been planned to the last detail, you know that.”

“Yeah well. We still got to keep everyone on their toes,” Rob stated as he continued toward his office. “So… no slacking, Captain,” he offered sarcastically as he disappeared into his office.

“Yes, sir,” Ivan responded by rote, as he stood in a knee-jerk reaction, and followed behind Rob, only to stop, lean against the doorframe of the Governor’s office, and watch as Rob removed his coat and cap.

Rob knew that Ivan had gotten up to follow him, which he also knew, generally didn’t happen except when there was something really bothering his friend. But he also knew, whatever it was, was personal, because Ivan would never hedge on business. So as Rob hung up his uniform coat and cap on the hat rack in the corner of his office, he repeated, “You’re sure everything’s okay?”

Ivan’s eyes strayed to Rob’s desk to where the book lay, still wrapped in its mailer, but he repeated, “Everything’s fine really.”

“Okay, if you say so,” Rob smirked, for he now saw what his friend was looking at. He headed to stand behind his desk, and after relieving himself of his briefcase, picked up the package in the plain brown wrapper that – addressed to Ivan – was sitting atop his desk’s blotter. “A present for me?” he asked in an expectant tone. “What’s the occasion Ivan?” Rob continued with his voice returning to normal, after quickly picking up the anxiety in Ivan’s posture.

“Yeah, a present, no occasion,” Ivan said in monotone, never taking his eyes off the package in his friend’s hands.

“Should I open it? Or would you prefer we forget the whole thing?” Rob asked cynically, and then laughed out loud trying to ease the tension, “How bad can a present be?”

“Just open it,” Ivan blurted out. “But please don’t be angry.”

Rob, taken aback by Ivan’s terse response, turned his attention to the package in his hands. Opening it, he realized straight away that it was a hardcover book. As he removed the excess wrapping, the title of the book struck him hard… Operation Boxing Day.  He quickly took in the authors’ names… Kyle Langley, Ivan Kinchloe, Edgar Wilson. And then the artwork on the cover blurred his vision to everything else… Shells raining down on some type of military encampment, and clearly a German military encampment, as the many prominent swastikas on the cover indicated.

Rob never looked up at Ivan, but silently continued his examination of the book.  Turning it over he saw both a picture of Ivan and Edgar Wilson on the back cover. Ivan was wearing his Captain’s uniform, and Wilson, though a retired Second Lieutenant, was wearing civilian garb.  Rob shook his head negatively as a flurry of raw emotions hit. Not being able to help himself though, he continued his examination of the book by reading the blurb on the back, regardless of the fact that he now knew exactly what this book was about…

Operation Boxing Day is the story of two Americans, both long-standing and high-ranking members of the now infamous intelligence operation begun by Major General Robert ‘Papa Bear’ Hogan at Luft Stalag13 in Hammelburg Germany during World War II. This story chronicles the 200th mission taken on by Papa Bear’s operation, in which both these men were thrust into mayhem and intrigue, partly because of the demands of a Nazi General, and partly because, the one and only Papa Bear was able, to once again, take advantage of the Nazis’ ignorance of his operation. This is the story of Sergeant Ivan Kinchloe and Sergeant Edgar Wilson’s two-month long odyssey, as they took part in what they themselves have dubbed, Papa Bear’s ‘Shell Game’. The purpose was to move the pea, per se, in and around southern Germany. Only in this case, Ivan Kinchloe and Edgar Wilson were the peas. And the shells… well those started pouring down on German installation, after installation, subsequent to our two heroes moving on, and continuing their odyssey.

Until one fateful night that is…

“Well?” Kinch asked when he realized that Rob was staring right through the book, no longer reading.

“I want to know how this book could have ever gotten written,” Hogan demanded angrily. “The whole operation is still officially classified!”

Having expected this reaction from his friend, Kinch had the explanations ready. “We got permission Rob. Actually it was fairly simple, because everyone wants to know about Papa Bear’s operation. And this story is basically a sabotage mission. A big sabotage mission certainly, but not something that people couldn’t easily piece together after the fact.”

“But you know, I didn’t want any of this to come back to haunt the Germans stationed at Stalag 13. Wilhelm and Hans in particular. How could you have forgotten that!” Rob just stared daring Ivan to give him an answer.

“Listen Rob,” Kinch began. “I understand how you feel, but you know that I would never forget that. We changed all the names of the Germans in the book, as well as all the names of the installations. Actually, that was one of the stipulations Wilson and I made clear to everyone involved in this… there is no trail to follow Rob. No one will figure it out.”

Rob, still angry, yelled, “So who the hell is this Kyle Langley then? Where did you find him? Can we trust him? All we’d need is for you to have found another Walter Hobson… and Wilhelm and Hans’s futures would be mud! I made a promise Ivan. I can’t break that promise!”

“Please, calm down Rob,” Kinch sighed. “I know what that promise means to you. You can trust Kyle Langley.” Kinch walked over and put a hand to Rob’s shoulder. “If you think hard enough, you already know that you can trust Kyle.”

“This is not a game Ivan!” Rob bellowed, but almost immediately fell silent. Kyle Langley? Kyle Langley? “Kyle Langley?” Rob asked more of himself, “Why do I know that name?”

Kinch just smiled. “Well, should I tell you? Or do you want to continue guessing on your own?” When Rob gave him a dirty look, Kinch’s smile widened even more. “Okay, well, ah, let’s just say that Kyle Langley is his pen name, or maybe you can say that it’s his Papa Bear name.”

After a long pause, with Kinch just waiting to see how long it would take Rob to remember, Rob finally asked bewildered, “You’ve got to be kidding me?” Instantly continuing excitedly, he said, “Oh my God, how’s he doing? Has he recovered completely? Is he still in England? Oh wait...” Rob retrieved the wrapping paper to look at the return address. “The postmark is San Francisco. He actually made it to California? Incredible!”

“Yeah, Karl is doing great Rob. I’m sorry we kept this whole thing from you,” Kinch apologized. “But we didn’t want you to have this to think about too. And Karl… all he wanted to do… was just say thank you. And this book was his way, well actually it’s Edgar’s and my way too. Operation Boxing Day is dedicated to you.”

Kinch sighed when he saw Rob begin, what he knew would be, a guilt-ridden retort. “I know. I know. You still blame yourself for the injuries to Karl, Edgar, and me. Just know that this is our way of saying don’t. Papa Bear’s operation was the best thing that ever happened to me. And I know Edgar feels the same way. Granted, Karl got thrown into the mix during Operation Boxing Day, but he admits that it was the only reason he survived till the end of the war, injuries not withstanding. Of all those Germans, Rob, you know Langenscheidt was even less of a Nazi than Schultz. Karl knows he would have ended up dead, in all that chaos near the end. Now he gets to live his dream, by doing what he always wanted to do. And that’s writing. He actually works for the San Francisco Gazette. And he’s happy.”

“But, but,” Rob stammered, no longer able to think of any more major objections, but still… “You’re sure that all your precautions will work?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Kinch assured. “I am, really. Don’t worry. We were very careful. Hell, that’s why, even though Karl has actually done most of the work on the book, that neither his picture nor real name appears in it. He has just as much to lose. And he would never want to hurt Hans, Wilhelm, or the others, in any way. You know that.” Kinch just sighed. “But Rob please try and understand. This book is expected to be a best seller. Edgar could use the extra money, with him already back in medical school. And Karl, well he’s just starting out in this writing game, it will be quite a boost for his career. And as for me, Ivan Kinchloe… I ain’t gonna shake a stick at the extra cash, as I most certainly don’t have a Major General’s salary. Not to mention, that I can now get my dad to finally retire… and find him a home of his own.”

Rob relaxed only slightly, as he wouldn’t want to deny Kinch and the others this opportunity. It’s just still hard to ease up. But you know, at this point, I can’t do much about it. I mean… if I make a stink now, everyone’s eyes will be focused on it, which most certainly wouldn’t be good. Hopefully it will just come off as an adventure story, and nothing more than that. As it is, not many people believe that we got away with what we did. I just hope it stays that way. And Hell… with so much attention being focused on the trials in Nuremberg, it’s probably the best time for the book to come out. It will probably be overlooked by the most critical of readers.  He began flipping through the pages of Operation Boxing Day. “So Ivan, you’re an author… what’s it feel like to be published?”

“Actually, we have three weeks before it hits the shelves in the United States, and another nine months before Europe,” Kinch supplied with a grin. “I’d say it’s like having a baby, only I don’t know anything about that,” Kinch laughed, teasing his friend who, just days ago, found out he was going to be a father.

“Ah,” Rob smiled. “So it’s like living with your stomach tied up in such a big knot, that you can’t breath sometimes.”

“So, you do understand,” Kinch offered with a wink and a smile, knowing how much Rob and Beth wanted this baby… and knowing what it took to get them to this point.

“Well maybe…” Rob offered sheepishly. “Just don’t say anything to Beth though, I think I’m supposed to be the calm, cool, and collected one. Ha, what a joke that is.”

“So, you okay with this book?” Kinch asked relieved to see that Rob had finally calmed down. “Really okay? It’s mostly just about me and Edgar during your version of a USO tour.” Kinch laughed. “Although, we did have to give credit where credit was due, because as you know, that little tour would never have happened if General Burkhaulter, sorry that’s General Stouffle in the book, hadn’t decided that seeing me pummeled at every opportunity, would be good for German morale.”

“Kinch, I’m s…” Rob began, starting to apologize.

Kinch cut Rob off, knowing what he was going to say. “Don’t you dare apologize to me.  You kept offering me a way out remember, so I wouldn’t have to face humiliation at the hands of those German wanna-be boxers. But Rob, please realize, that just knowing that Edgar and I were the reason that the Allies got to take out those German military installations, eclipsed any and all of that. I’d have taken dive after dive until we worked our way through the rest of Germany. Really.”

“But it didn’t happen that way,” Rob interjected guiltily, knowing that he’d been forced to send both his men out into the German countryside unprotected, and having no control over what would happen to them once they left Stalag 13.  Both Kinch and Wilson were at the complete mercy of the German military at that point. Rob was just glad that he had talked Klink into letting Langenscheidt be their escort, since the kid turned out to be, for the most part, their saving grace.

“But nothing Rob,” Kinch replied. “So, we got caught in the crossfire that night. It’s okay, really. We knew going into it, that that was a distinct possibility. Except for poor Karl, of course. But overall, the mission was a success. And Karl, Edgar, and me… we’re still here to tell our story. And just so you know… I always got in one good hard jab before the inevitable knockout,” Kinch harrumphed. “Many of those men knew the real score… I could see it in their faces.”

Rob finally smiled, “I guess I should have expected nothing less than that from you. So,” he asked holding up the book, “is this my copy?”

“Yeah,” Kinch replied. “They’re sending me a few more copies in a couple weeks, but I wanted that one for you.”

“Okay, well then,” Rob said as he walked over to his desk and picked up a pen. “I want an autographed copy.”

“That’s what you have. I just hadn’t gotten a chance to put my name on it yet,” Kinch said, taking the book, and opening it to the dedication page where Kyle Langley and Edgar Wilson had already signed it. With a little flourish, he signed his name, showed it to Rob, closed the book, and handed it back to his friend.

“Thanks Ivan. Congratulations, really,” Rob offered. “But I have a couple…”

“Good morning, Rob, Ivan,” Wilhelm Klink offered, peering in the General’s door, not having any clue as to the conversation that had been taking place, but knowing almost immediately, from the look on Rob’s face, that he had interrupted something. “Excuse me. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

Rob had already almost slammed the book down on his desk, trying to hide it behind his nameplate. “You’re not interrupting Wilhelm. Good morning to you. You’re here early today?” Rob asked just trying to say something, and hide the massive amount of guilty panic that was welling to the surface.

“Actually, I’m here at my normal time,” Wilhelm stated matter-of-factly, though feeling a little strange.

“Oh, you most certainly are,” Rob agreed after glancing at his watch. “Guess I lost track of time.”

“Yeah, guess we both lost track of time,” Kinch assured somewhat anxiously, but only in reaction to Rob’s own anxiety. “Good morning Wilhelm.”

“Was there something you needed?” Rob asked uneasily of his Budget Appropriations Manager.

“Only to bid you both a good morning,” Wilhelm said rather quickly, but since he could easily tell that neither man wanted him around at the moment, he continued with an excuse, “Although I do have some budget adjustments we need to go over before Wolfgang makes his report to the Hammelburg Town Council tonight. Just let me know when will be a good time.”

“Ten o’clock would be good,” Rob said glancing fretfully at Ivan for confirmation. “Ten is good, right?”

“Yes, ten is fine,” Ivan replied, thankful that he’d already gone over the Governor’s schedule for today, and had it committed to memory.

“I will see you then,” Wilhelm offered and continued toward his own office. I wonder what that was all about?

After a pause, long enough, to make sure Wilhelm was out of earshot, Rob sighed, “God damn it Ivan! I want to be happy for you, but this book would be so much easier to accept if that man didn’t work two doors away from us everyday. I mean Hell… he’s Wilhelm to me now… that German Colonel doesn’t exist anymore. I guess I’d hoped it would somehow be a mute point.” Rob paused and shook his head sadly, “Actually… I never gave him a thought, until just now. Damn.”

“Rob,” Kinch sighed. “I feel the same way about him. I’d never do anything to hurt him.”

“Yeah, all your good intentions aside,” Rob interrupted curtly, “neither you nor I really know how he feels about the whole scenario. He has, not once, ever mentioned, or asked me, anything about our operation. Hell, he probably already knows way more than he wants too. He was, after all, smack dab in the middle of it the whole time. Maybe he just doesn’t want to know more. Except now, here it is in print, for the world to see.”

“But Rob, we don’t use his name,” Kinch offered. “And he is never shown in a bad light. I mean… actually neither you nor he are in it all that much. And we never even describe the operation in any detail. Like I said, it’s about me and Edgar and our time on that German morale tour. You both are only in it on the periphery.”

“Yeah that’s all well and fine, but that whole bloody operation would have never worked without the Kommandant of Stalag 13, Wilhelm, taking those status reports from Langenscheidt. Those reports that I talked him into taking, so I could pinpoint your location and get that information to London so they could orchestrate those air raids.” Rob sighed. “He’s all over this book Ivan.”

“Yeah, but honestly… he’s only shown as an officer doing his duty. And doing it better than most other Kommandants would,” Kinch offered. “He was just keeping track of his men. That’s all. Granted you were able to take advantage of that, but he was doing the decent thing.”

“Yeah,” Rob agreed. “I guess if you put it that way, you’re right. He was always trying to do the decent thing, even in the midst of that long nightmare, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah he was, although he wasn’t always that good at it,” Kinch smirked, “but that’s where you came in.”

“Yeah, well,” Rob stammered, unsure of what else to say.

“So, how do you want to handle this with Wilhelm, Rob?” Kinch asked, knowing that it was he that should be stepping to the plate to handle it, as it was ‘his’ book. But somehow right now, he couldn’t make the move alone, as Rob’s anxiety was enough to make him second-guess himself, even though he still thought, deep down, that Wilhelm Klink had nothing to worry about.

“I guess we’re just going to have to tell him,” Rob offered sadly. “But not today, let me read it first. I’ll try and get to it today, but more than likely I’ll have to take it home with me tonight. Maybe by then, I’ll have figured out how we’re going to tell him. Wilhelm deserves to know before this book hits the shelves.”

“Okay, but you are a fast reader, right?” Kinch asked trying to figure out when this explanation was going to happen.

Rob gave Ivan a dirty look, turned from his friend, and silently headed back to take a seat at his desk.

Ivan took that as a ‘get out now’ from his commanding officer, and started a retreat to his own office, but before he closed the door behind him, he remembered that Rob was in mid-sentence when Wilhelm walked in. “Rob?” he asked sheepishly.

“Yeah?” Rob said in reply barely lifting his head from staring at the book, which was still lying facedown on his desk.

“Were you going to ask me something when Wilhelm came in?” Kinch offered curious.

“Oh that,” Rob sighed and finally looked up at his friend. “Well… the blurb here on the back got me thinking about a couple things. Are you sure Operation Boxing Day was our 200th mission? Cause boy… it felt like a lot more by that time.”

“Oh,” Kinch explained. “Well we took a little poetic license. It was actually our 200th sabotage mission. We conveniently left the espionage, the people moving, and the miscellaneous unexplainable event… out of the count.”

“Oh I see,” Rob sighed, and felt silent, wondering was else he might find, or not find, in this book.

“You said ‘a couple of things’, Rob?” Kinch continued still curious.

“Oh, the other thing was all that stuff about Papa Bear’s Shell Game,” Hogan stated confused. “I’d never heard you refer to it like that before. Even our ad campaign guys referred to it as ‘Come Out at the Nazi and Start Fighting’.

“Oh that,” Kinch offered with a sigh. “Well that was originally just between me and Edgar. I don’t remember how it came up, but it was just that we’d been so lucky. We’d been almost disappearing from under those shells the Allies were laying waste to those encampments with. But I’m sorry Rob, we both knew the risks we were taking… with the raids being random, and us out of any real contact with you, and you having no part in the decision as to which sites got hit when, and us never knowing from one day to the next where we were headed… we both assumed that it was only a matter of time before we’d eventually get caught under those shells. And, of course, we did that day when we got shuttled back to
Rengersbrunn for a rematch. Maybe we jinxed ourselves.”

“Papa Bear’s Shell Game huh?” Rob offered quietly remembering, and second-guessing the day that his men headed out on that forced boxing tour. “Maybe I should have just convinced Klink to send Peter along with you, he had that game mastered.”

Hammelburg, Germany, Headquarters of the US Military Governor,
Office of Wilhelm Klink, Budget Appropriations Manager for the US Controlled Zone,
November 20, 1945, 1630 Hours

Wilhelm Klink sat in his office perplexed by the events of the day. He couldn’t understand why both Rob Hogan and Ivan Kinchloe had been acting the way they had… all day. Every time that he’d approach either of them today, each would become anxious. Either one or the other would become silent or make an excuse to walk away, or even try unsuccessfully to change the subject of their conversation, quickly. And awkwardly. It was as if, all of a sudden, his relationship with both men had changed. And this after I was just starting to feel comfortable in my new position as Budget Appropriations Manager.

It had already been an extremely hard, and stressful, number of months working to get the civilian populace to accept the United States’ new role in their lives, and even now, that work was nowhere near done. And with the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in session for the first time today, there was still way too much to do, and way too much tension, but for Wilhelm Klink… he felt that he had found his nitch, and was finally doing a job that he felt would benefit his country.

Only today it seems as if my job may be left unfinished, especially if I can no longer work in partnership with the Governor and his aide. I wonder what the problem is? Do they feel they can no longer trust me? Have I done something to ruin our working relationship? Could it possibly have something to do with the trials? What should I do? Should I wait until they make their intentions known to me? Should I…?

Wilhelm, his indecision sticking in his craw like never before, shook his head in anger at himself. I promised myself I would never be caught again as a pawn in anyone’s game! I promised myself, that that Wilhelm Klink would no longer exist! Yet today, I have spent the entire day hiding from what I should have faced straight away. It’s just that I never expected to, again, be a pawn in Robert Hogan’s game. I had thought that we were working together under a new set of rules. And I had sincerely hoped that we had moved passed all that… unpleasantness.

Well… if it is that my position here is no longer viable, I will not wait for them to hand me the news!

Wilhelm Klink, his decision made, chose to face his future instead of hiding from it as he’d done, and perfected, in the past. Exiting his office with a purposeful stride, he entered the Governor’s outer office to find both men again startled by his appearance. “Excuse me, Governor, Captain.” He took a deep breath before continuing. “My apologies for interrupting, but I would like to have a word with you both.”
When neither Rob nor Ivan said anything, Klink strode to in front of the Captain’s desk and said determined, “I need to have the record set straight today.”

This time there was no book to hide, as Rob had it already concealed in his briefcase. He had actually been on the way home when Wilhelm barged in, but he was now very concerned in the face of Wilhelm’s almost accusatory stance, especially since he wasn’t quite sure where it was coming from. “Of course, anything you need to talk about is fine. What’s wrong? Please sit,” Rob offered, placing his coat, cap, and briefcase on Ivan’s desk, while indicating the chair in front of Ivan’s desk for Wilhelm.

“If it is all the same to you, I’d prefer to stand,” Klink said very seriously. “I need to know whether my position as Budget Appropriations Manager is in jeopardy. I had thought up until this morning that my work had been satisfactory.  Although this morning and all throughout the day, you, Governor, and you, Captain, have been acting particularly uneasy around me. If you have made a decision to replace me, I would like to know now, and not wait until I am, once again, a pawn to be dealt an unexpected blow… at your whim.”

Damn. Rob sighed, and took a half-seated position on the corner of Ivan’s desk. “Wilhelm, please accept my apology… and Ivan’s,” Rob offered, with a guilty glance at his aide. “Your job is most certainly not in jeopardy. Your work has been exemplary. This office could not have accomplished what it has already without your assistance.” Rob paused and sighed once more.

“Then, I do not understand your behavior,” Wilhelm offered hesitantly. “Even in our prior relationship, I do not remember seeing either of you behaving as you have today. Please explain.”

“Wilhelm,” Rob began with another sigh. “Well that’s probably because ‘guilty panic’ wasn’t part of our prior relationship. It’s just that today neither Ivan nor I were ready to face you with the newest wrinkle in our relationship. I’m not sure that I’m ready yet, but you do deserve a direct response and not the evasiveness we’ve been handing you all day.” Rob exhaled. “I’m sorry that we’ve made you feel that uncomfortable. It was never our intention. Would you please sit?” Rob asked, while he repositioned his briefcase on the desk to get easier access to the book. Then fingering the book, Rob waited until Wilhelm Klink was finally seated, and offered, “I’m sorry Wilhelm, this was as much of a surprise to me this morning, as it will be to you. Only… in my case, I can easily accept it. But when you arrived this morning… I was unexpectedly struck with concern about how you would handle it… and struck with guilt that I had not given your personal feelings any thought until that very moment.”

Rob pulled out Operation Boxing Day and handed the hardcover book to Wilhelm Klink. “Since then, neither of us knew how to broach the subject to you, nor did we even know…” Rob paused. “We just didn’t know what to say.”

Wilhelm Klink sat staring mesmerized at the book in his hands. The title itself made no impression… Operation Boxing Day. Two of the three authors’ names did make quite the impression though… Ivan Kinchloe, Edgar Wilson. The third author’s name, again made no impression at all… Kyle Langley? But the artwork on the cover… there was no denying which side was taking the beating from the many shells shown raining down.  Still quietly examining the book, Wilhelm turned the book over, quickly taking in the pictures of two of his former POWs gracing the back cover. He continued examining that cover, not wanting, yet wanting, to read the story blurb that was staring him in the face… 

Wilhelm Klink clearly remembered when General Burkhaulter sent Kinchloe and Wilson on that boxing tour of German installations. But he had never once thought, until this very moment, that that could have been part of some Allied plot, some Papa Bear plot, some plot being perpetrated right from under his nose, with him again being duped and made a fool of. With an unexpected fit of anger flaring hot and bright within him, Wilhelm slammed the book forcefully onto the desk in front of him, just barely missing the General’s fingers in the process. “I guess that I am still that pawn being dealt unexpected blows at your whim,” Wilhelm shouted with an unchecked ferocity, as he stood and almost sent the chair he’d been sitting in, toppling backwards.

Immediately ashamed about his outburst though, Wilhelm tried to quickly compose himself. Struggling to bring his thoughts back to the work at hand, but still clearly in the grip of some unbridled anger, he stated loudly and evenly, “I will see you both in the morning… we still have much to do to get you ready, Governor, for your meeting with the provisional civilian government next week. Good night gentlemen.” Wilhelm turned and quickly made his way to the door, striving not to make any more of a fool of himself, and most certainly, endeavoring to escape before he spoke out in anger again.

Both shocked, Rob and Ivan began talking at the same time, trying to stop Wilhelm Klink from leaving.

“Wilhelm please,” Kinch offered, attempting to apologize. “Don’t be angry with Rob. He did not know anything about this until this morning. This book is my fault alone.”

But it was Rob’s loud and angry words that made Wilhelm Klink stop dead in his tracks. “I will not be spoken to in that manner Klink! If you want to keep your job as my Budget Appropriations Manager… I expect an apology. Now!” Rob had never seen that much anger from Wilhelm Klink, and he knew an apology would have never broken through to him enough to get him to stop his irate departure. Rob was just glad, for his sake, that Wilhelm Klink couldn’t be packing a gun.

“Look at me,” the Governor demanded with authority when Wilhelm Klink made no move to turn. Rob watched as Klink’s whole body began to shake, though he couldn’t tell whether it was still from anger or from something else entirely.

“You just don’t understand!” Klink hollered, staring at the floor in front of him, unable to keep his anger in-check.

Rob approached Wilhelm Klink quietly.  He closed his office door after quickly waving off the security detail that had responded to all the yelling. Finally reaching out a hand to Wilhelm’s shoulder, he offered, “Explain it to me then.”

At first, Wilhelm recoiled from Rob’s touch. But when, after what seemed like an eternity, he did finally look up into the Governor’s eyes, and even though his whole posture had by that time become extremely rigid, he immediately and contritely apologized. “I’m sorry Governor. I just overreacted. It is nothing you need to concern yourself with. I will see you in the morning.” Wilhelm took a deep breath and quickly reached for the doorknob to try and continue his escape, but never got the chance, as Rob quickly leaned his whole body against the door.

“I have already concerned myself with it,” Rob offered, and again reached out to touch Wilhelm on the shoulder. “Wilhelm, you can say what you need too to me and Ivan. It won’t go passed this door. And realize that even though we were on different sides during the war, and you were most certainly a pawn in my game, that Ivan and I are two of only a few people in this world who could even possibly have chance at understanding how you feel at this moment. Talk to us. Please.”

Wilhelm Klink sighed despondently, his anger quickly spiraling into despair. “Rob, Ivan,” he offered, turning from one man to the other, and knowing that he would have to now openly admit, that both of these men have constantly played a role in his continuing nightmares.  “I…” he started again, but stopped as once more his body began to shake. So, before he continued, he returned to the chair in front of Ivan’s desk, knowing that his legs would not hold him for long.

After seating himself, he took his still trembling hands and covered his face, now not wanting to look into the eyes of the other two men. “You don’t understand,” Wilhelm began, but when the words caught in his throat he had to begin again, “you don’t understand the intense anger and extreme rage, that I can not control, every time I’m suddenly and unexpectedly reminded of being duped, as I had been, by you. It’s so intense… that I can see nothing but a veneer of blood red everywhere I look. My stomach feels as if it has been twisted, my heart feels as if it has been ripped from my chest.” Klink took a deep breath, still not looking into the men’s faces. “And I think to myself that if I had only done the job I was trained to do, instead of hiding, I could have stopped you. I could be proud of my heritage, proud of my countryman, proud knowing that my Germany could have been victorious. If only I was able to stop you, the one and only Papa Bear, I could be proud of myself.”

Wilhelm Klink got up suddenly and paced the room, his whole body now shaking almost uncontrollably. “But you see, I am always struck with blinding terror then, for I know the truth of what the world would be like, if Hitler’s Germany had been victorious.” Almost as if his feet gave way underneath him, Klink dropped to his knees, and clasped his hands in front of him as if to pray. Looking up at the ceiling, he lamented, “It is after that that I thank God, with my whole being, that I was duped by you.” Starting to hyperventilate, he pushed on, “And I wish, from deep within my soul, that I could take credit for helping you defeat those Nazi monsters. Only I know I can never do so, as I was one of those monsters.” Tears came to his eyes, as his head almost bobbed forward into his waiting hands. He knelt sobbing, until Rob came over and took hold of his shoulders.

Startled, Wilhelm, with a sharp intake of breath, fended of Rob’s support, and slowly stood from where he had dropped to his knees. Finally in mortified embarrassment, he glanced at both men who were now only staring and waiting for him to continue. “Only deep down, I don’t even think I can claim a place with them either.  I had no real place in the world then. I was obsolete. But now… now I have you, and only you, to thank for giving me my life back. The work I am doing now… feels so right. There is nothing else I would even dream to do. I owe you for everything that I am now.”

Wilhelm, seemingly regaining his composure, took another deep breath, and came to attention in front of the two men, “So please, Governor, Captain, forgive me that outburst. I will make certain it never happens again.” Relaxing only slightly, he offered, “Ivan… I should congratulate you on your book. What you did played an enormous part in bringing an end to the war. You have the right to tell your story. I will live with the embarrassment and dishonor that book will bring. For if somehow the tables were turned, and you were writing a book on the victorious Third Reich… I could never live with myself.” Turning to Rob, he said, “And I hope to continue working for you Rob. As I said, it is all that I can hope to do. That is, only, if you can accept my apology?”

Rob, unsure of what to say, just nodded, silently acknowledging Wilhelm’s apology.

It was Ivan who spoke next, “Wilhelm,” he said determined, as he stood from behind his desk with the book in his hand. “This book does nothing to embarrass or dishonor you. Please know that no real names were used, but even with that… in re-examining the whole scenario… we found nothing that you did was wrong. You were doing your duty, and that’s all. You took Langenscheidt’s reports, because I know, and Rob knows, that you actually cared what happened to us.”

Wilhelm just looked skeptically at Ivan without saying a word.

“All right, sure, we still took advantage. I can’t change that. But we were doing our duty too. Rob just passed the information from those reports along to London,” Ivan explained. “But I also know, that I’d be dead, if you hadn’t sent Shultz to rescue us from that hell-hole Edgar and I got dropped into after getting injured in that raid. Both of us,” Kinch said waiving his hand to include Rob, “know that you didn’t have to do that, especially during all the chaos that existed by that point.” Kinch shoved the book into Klink’s grasp. “Read it, you’ll see. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You did the honorable thing.”

Wilhelm Klink stood quietly staring at the book now in his hands. Finally after grasping it tightly, he let his gaze meet one man’s, and then the other’s. But when only silence reigned, Wilhelm turned and left the office with the book firmly clutched in his hand.

Hammelburg, Germany, Apartment of Heike, Wilhelm, and Wolfgang Klink,
November 20, 1945, 1915 Hours

Wilhelm Klink was sitting alone in the living room of the apartment he shared with his brother Wolfgang, and his mother Heike. He had been looking forward to this quiet night alone at home, for days now, as it was to be the first night that he had the apartment to himself since the three of them moved in a few months back, subsequent to spending their first three months together in Hammelburg… living separately. It was at the conclusion of their arduous journey from Leipzig after the war, that his mother had been offered refuge with the Freiling’s, his brother with the Berger’s, and he himself with Oscar Schnitzer and his niece. And even though Wilhelm counted his blessings in having his family with him now, it was still frustrating, trying to find quiet time to think. And tonight he needed his lion’s share…

But once again, Wilhelm had to admit that he owed Robert Hogan for his life as it existed now. He felt that, even though he had no real proof, the Governor had much to do with his family’s safe return from Leipzig, because even as hard as that was, it was nothing compared to his lonely and terrifying trip to Leipzig to find his family. And Wilhelm was positive that his family’s search for an apartment was made considerably easier when the Governor returned to Hammelburg. And although Rob Hogan will say he had nothing to do with either, Wilhelm knew the truth. He saw it with his own eyes here in Hammelburg… doors seemed to amazingly open, where once they had remained closed, for even though Rob had wanted to keep Wilhelm’s identity a secret, most in Hammelburg knew him, and knew him only as the Kommandant of Luft Stalag 13. Something that was not considered a favorable quality in a new tenant. I honestly believe that I have only Rob to thank for my family being here with me, and for even having had places to stay before finding this apartment together. The Freiling’s, the Berger’s, and the Schnitzer’s were all members of Rob’s operation, but they have all been very accepting of my family and me.

Although as it is… we never talk of the before, only of the now, and the hereafter.

Where would my family be without them? Where would I be without them?
Wilhelm’s heart sank, as old memories and feelings shot through him like a knife. Probably where I should be… sitting in prison along side those who still await the hangman’s noose for their crimes. He shook his head sadly, again realizing, that he had had no real place in the world before becoming the Budget Appropriation Manager of the US Controlled Zone. He sighed finally coming to terms with the fact, that no one, no one at all, would even care if he was ever hung by the neck until dead. I have always been a faceless and useless non-entity. No one would even know…

Wilhelm picked up Operation Boxing Day from the coffee table in front of him, and as he turned it over in his hands, anger and despair began to clash in his soul once more. Why should this book make me so angry? I have nothing I should be mad at. I know that I was hiding from everything then. Why was I so irate when I found out this plot occurred right under my nose? I have already admitted that Robert Hogan was more of a soldier than I ever could be. Why is it, that when I’m continually confronted with more, and more, and more proof of that fact, that I burn with rage from inside? Why?

Maybe it is, that I never saw any indication of this Operation Boxing Day plot, nothing at all.

And all this still comes after having to admit to myself, that if I really wanted to look hard, I know some of what Robert Hogan was doing then. But still, everything that I saw, or thought I saw, was only ever something that benefited his men, and mine… or even me for that matter. From the Leprechaun delivered boots to the penicillin drop during that pneumonia outbreak early on. I would never have confronted him, or tried to stop any of that. Even though admittedly, at the time, I had no explanation for either event. But neither did I look very hard to find one.

Maybe that’s why when Rob first told me that he was the leader of the local underground, I was not that surprised, nor angry. To do some of the other things that I can now admit to ‘seeing’… such as the disappearing tiger tank, the exploding jet fuel truck, planes appearing and disappearing from camp, and so many others… he had to have some contact outside of camp. I guess as a Kommandant, I had even expected that to happen…between the guards and the work details, there was always enough outside contact. And Robert Hogan was, and still is, a man of intelligence and cunning… that was never in question. So to find out that he had a small sabotage operation going on, well that was not too hard to imagine.

But to realize that he constantly used me as a pawn, in things, that I know I never would have seen, makes my blood boil…

Wilhelm had yet to read the book in front of him, but he remembered well those two months in which Kinchloe and Wilson were gone from camp. Robert Hogan would only come in to his office to ask for the occasional update on his men. There was always veiled anger there, I could tell. As there would be, I hope from me, if our situations were reversed. Never once did I see anything that would reveal a plot, though. All I ever saw was an officer worried about his men, something that I could easily understand. And as an officer, I would have done what I could to ease that officer’s concern. As I would have hoped, would have also happened if our situations were reversed.

But to know, that I was completely blind to his ministrations, makes me livid. But only livid at myself, for being such an impotent fool, for spending my adult life pretending to be more than I could ever be, for being so transparent that I could be the brunt of Robert Hogan’s joke on the Third Reich, and have no clue that I was nothing more than a court jester for the entire war!

And to now know that there were possibly hundreds more missions undertaken similar to the one described in Operation Boxing Day… Papa Bear’s 200th mission? The 200th mission? How was that even possible!

For the second time in one day, Operation Boxing Day took a beating as Wilhelm slammed it down on his coffee table. This time though, instead of almost breaking the Governor’s fingers, he almost sent a box that was also sitting on the table crashing to the floor. Luckily for Wilhelm, he was able to stop that box from falling. He clutched the rather large and awkward box in his hands and sat back on the couch, placing the box in his lap with a sigh of relief. The box contained the only things that he’d wanted to keep when he left Stalag 13 on that last day. He had hurriedly packed them away and asked Oscar Freiling keep them for him until he returned to Hammelburg. And today was the first day that he’d actually thought about those things, because the expected memories that he knew those things would raise, were both good and bad, and he hadn’t had the courage to look at them until now…

Opening the box, the first thing he pulled out was his violin and its bow. Wilhelm was still overwhelmed at the emotions that invoked, even though he had tried to steel himself against it. He had only taken violin lessons as a child because his mother was an avid aficionado of classical music. When he packed away the violin that day, it was with the fear that he’d never see his mother again, and with the expectation that he would never again want to enjoy music. Wilhelm plucked gently at the strings and smiled slightly… happily finding that the joy of music was still there, especially since he could now again share that joy with his mother.

After carefully placing the violin on the coffee table, he searched the box, removing some more packing material, and found his WWI pikelhaub. Wilhelm hadn’t had the courage to throw it out that day, even though his heart and his head had been clashing over it at the time. He still feared, even now, that if someone found him with it, his life could be forfeit. It was such a symbol of war, but for Wilhelm Klink it actually represented a simpler time, before war, when he had proudly followed in his father’s footsteps in joining the military. He remembered his father, Wilhelm Sr., as a brave and honorable man, and a man that very many people also remembered that way.  Sighing in despair, Wilhelm quickly placed his pikelhaub on the coffee table, before the urge to throw it across the room got the better of him, for he knew, deep within his soul, that he would never approach his father’s dignified stature.

Wilhelm sat staring at the packing material waiting for the surge of self-pity and desperation, brought on by the pikelhaub, to pass. He didn’t want to pull out the next item, for he remembered the order in which he packed the box and was terrified that he would not be able to control his actions. Anger surged within him once more though, when he realized that it was only fear keeping him from removing the antique pistol from the box. Rummaging through the packing material, he found the pistol as well as the bullets that he’d always kept with it. A strange sense of euphoria hit as he realized that, in some small way, he had indeed outsmarted the great Papa Bear. Neither Rob Hogan nor his men were ever aware of this weapon. Wilhelm had always kept it concealed, more because of it’s worth as an antique than anything else, but he had taken pride in always keeping it in working condition, something that he had learned from his father, who had always taken the same pride in his own weaponry.

It was then that despair hit Wilhelm hard once again. How easy would it be for me now, to join those monsters who, in cowardice, took their own lives instead of facing justice? It would be so easy, so simple. Wilhelm examined, almost lovingly, the pistol he held in one hand, all the while, rotating the small bag of bullets through the fingers of the other hand. Suddenly the bag containing the bullets ricocheted off the wall across the room from where Wilhelm was seated. And the gun… made a loud thud as fell to the floor. I will not stoop to that cowardice. I will live to face my dishonor, for as long as God allows me to live, and I will deal with whatever form that dishonor may take.

I will no longer hide. Never again will I hide.

With a determined decision, Wilhelm placed the box back on the table, and rummaged again for the last objects in the box. Soon he found his set of journals, the journals that he’d kept for years. Again, a sense of some pride hit, knowing that these books too had been kept secret from Rob Hogan and his men. These books were Wilhelm’s life on paper up until that last day at Stalag 13. He placed the set of journals on the table next to Operation Boxing Day. He, now for the first time today, was actually curious about how the events in the book would play out beside his own telling of those days. Wilhelm knew his journals could never describe Kinchloe and Wilson’s daily ordeal, but he so wanted to see if he could piece together anything at all from his now – new – perspective.

His first curiosity was about the book’s title, Operation Boxing Day. I can easily understand the boxing reference, but the Boxing Day allusion brings to mind only the holiday on December 26th. Opening his last journal to December 26th, 1944, he almost laughed at the simplicity of the connection. December 26th, 1944, Boxing Day, was the first day that Ivan Kinchloe was released from the Stalag’s infirmary and sent back into the prison population after almost eight weeks recuperating from the back injury received during that air-raid, that he, Wilson, and Langenscheidt were caught in.

Wilhelm was suddenly floored by an unexpected wave of guilt as it welled from deep inside him. He hadn’t thought of young Karl Langenscheidt in a very long time, almost as if he’d tried to put him completely out of his mind. In all that Wilhelm had tried to do after that raid to rescue Karl and his POWs, he was never able to locate where Langenscheidt had been transferred to for medical assistance. Actually any information that he’d been able to ascertain about his young officer had always run into a dead end. Almost as if Karl had disappeared from the face of the earth…

Could it be possible?
Wilhelm asked himself, as unexpectedly, a strange sense of optimism hit where he would have expected anger to again rear its ugly head.  Would Hogan have...? His curiosity getting the better of him, Wilhelm collected his belongings, moved into his bedroom, and began reading Operation Boxing Day in the privacy of his own room, not wanting to explain this book to either his mother or brother, if by chance they arrived home while he was still reading.

Hammelburg, Germany, Apartment of Heike, Wilhelm, and Wolfgang Klink,
November 21, 1945, 0545 Hours

Wilhelm Klink had spent a long sleepless night after reading Operation Boxing Day, as he had so many more questions now, than answers. But somehow those questions did not inspire the same internal rage that had been with him since the war ended.  He had now come to terms with who he was then, and who he is now, after recognizing that his anger had only been directed solely at himself.  And now, with his decision made to no longer hide from himself, Wilhelm’s internal strife, although not completely gone, seemed more manageable this morning.

And I have to admit that what Ivan assured me about the book was indeed true. Certainly, the world will know that the Kommandant of Stalag 13 was duped, but actually the world already knows that… so there is nothing new in that. I’m just thankful that that was not the focus of this story…

Wilhelm reached over to his bed stand to pick up Operation Boxing Day once more. Opening it to the last page, he could almost feel a sense of pride in what was written there. It had come as such a shock to him when he first read it. And even though he still felt that he couldn’t take any credit for helping with Papa Bear’s operation, he now was sure that, at least in this one small thing, where Kinchloe and Wilson were concerned, he had indeed done what honor demanded.

Wilhelm couldn’t help but re-read the book’s thank you page…

To all the civilian men, women, and children who worked tirelessly for years helping with Papa Bear’s struggle to defeat the Nazi Regime, we, Edgar Wilson and myself, Ivan Kinchloe, want to express our deepest and most heartfelt thank you to you all. Without your support and dedication, we, all of the POWs stationed at Luft Stalag 13, would never have lived long enough to see the end of the Third Reich.

In addition, both Edgar and I want to personally extend that thanks to three men, who at face value would be considered the enemy, but because of their decency and humanity, we both got a second chance at life. There is no doubt in our minds, that without their intervention, neither of us would have survived Operation Boxing Day. Our thanks go to Luft Stalag 13’s Kommandant, Sergeant of the Guard, and the Corporal who was our escort throughout Operation Boxing Day.

Wilhelm sighed, again thinking about young Karl Langenscheidt. The answers he had been hoping to find about Karl were not in the book. Karl disappeared as mysteriously from the book, as he did in real life.  And as much as Wilhelm could accept Kinchloe and Wilson’s thanks, he knew that his real duty should have been to find Karl, which he was unable to do… no matter how hard he tried.

But why do I now feel there is still more to his story. Why am I even asking myself why? When will I learn to accept that ‘more’ is what I should expect from Robert Hogan and his operation?

I can always ask Rob I suppose, for at this point, nothing other than my own shame could possibly sink me any further into the despair where I found myself yesterday. And I feel I need to know what happened to Karl. I need to face my own disgrace in leaving him to his fate without a backward glance. He was such an innocent… all alone in this world with no family to speak of.  I can only hope that even if what eventually happened to him, was none of Papa Bear’s doing… that maybe Rob, as Military Governor, can help me find my answers anyway. I owe it to that young man… that he not be forsaken just because of my ineffectiveness as his commanding officer.

Wilhelm rolled out of bed with a sigh. He was now worried about how he would approach Rob and Ivan for his answers, and wondering if he should even expect to get answers, as there was nothing he was owed by either Rob or Ivan.  But there were now so many things he was itching to know… most especially, an explanation for Hans Schultz.

I’m mystified. I realize that Hans was hiding from the war like me. Or at least that’s what I had always thought with his constant, “I see nothing, I know nothing.” But to read that Newkirk, Carter, and LeBeau -- dressed in German uniforms – had traveled with Schultz to aid in the retrieval of Kinchloe and Wilson… shocked me. I had sent Schultz out alone to transfer those two men. I really was not sure that I could trust the others, but for Schultz to allow prisoners to go along… he must have known much more about Papa Bear’s organization than I would have ever dreamed possible.

Upon first reading that, anger had begun to overwhelm Wilhelm knowing that he had again been duped. And by Schultz of all people!  But his curiosity beat the anger from his soul, for he couldn’t explain why Hans, if indeed a member of Papa Bear’s operation, would have been locked up under heavy guard, with him, during that last month of the war. Clearly Hogan was not hiding ‘his’ people from me at that point. What would make Hogan lock up Schultz, instead of allowing him, his freedom, to be part of his operation? What is it that I don’t know about Hans Schultz? What is it -- again – that I left myself be blinded too?

Knowing that he wouldn’t get his answers, to these and other questions, wallowing in pity at home, Wilhelm got himself dressed and ready for another day as Budget Appropriations Manager, somehow feeling that when he got to the office today, all that he knew as truth yesterday, was going to change this morning. But also feeling now, that he could handle all that he would know as truth after today. I actually have no other option now. I have no choice but to live with that truth. And since I refuse to hide any longer… I will have to do just that.

Just a couple hours later…

Wilhelm Klink entered the US Government’s office building like he had everyday now for months, but today he hesitated at the door to the Governor’s outer office. Normally he would have just poked his head in as he had done yesterday, but today was different, so different in fact, that when he overheard the Governor’s anxious voice, he paused just outside not really intending to listen, but doing so anyway…

“Have you heard from Wilhelm yet, Ivan? I tried calling his home last night. No one answered.”

“I’ve already talked to Wolfgang and Heike, Rob. Wilhelm should be on his way. I’m sure everything is okay.”

“He’s late, and he’s never late, Ivan. I’m worried. I never got to read your book. What if…”

Wilhelm was startled out of his reverie surprised by the concern he could hear in Rob’s voice. “Good morning, Governor, Captain,” he said peering around the corner into the office, trying desperately to maintain some semblance of dignity. “May I have a moment of your time?”

Startled, Rob Hogan blurted out, “You’re late Wilhelm, is everything all right?”

Almost smiling, Wilhelm glanced at his watch and responded with the same phrase that had begun yesterday’s early morning conversation with the Governor. “
Actually, I’m here at my normal time.”

“Oh, you most certainly are,” Rob agreed apologetically after glancing at his watch. “Sorry, guess I lost track of time.”

“Yeah, guess we both lost track of time,” Ivan assured almost by rote in response to Rob’s statement.

As both men fell silent, Wilhelm walked all the way into the office. And when it looked as if neither man was going to say anything more, Wilhelm removed the book from his briefcase and turned to face Ivan, saying, “You are an honorable man, Ivan. I thank you for your restraint on my behalf in writing this book.” Turning quickly to Rob and handing him the book, he apologized, “I’m sorry Rob, I had not meant to be rough with the book. Please forgive the tear in the cover. I only hope that Ivan can replace it for you. If need be, I will pay for a replacement.”

Rob and Ivan were still speechless; both never having expected Wilhelm to be seemingly as calm, cool, and collected, as he appeared to be this morning. After a few anxious heartbeats, both men began talking at once with neither really knowing what to say.

Ivan started with a quick, “You’re welcome.”

And Rob with, “I’m sure it’s not a problem.”

Wilhelm quickly picked up on both men’s nervousness, and was somewhat comforted by the fact. Not that he wanted to make any thing of it, but was actually comforted by the fact that both men appeared to be concerned for his feelings. So continuing when both men remained silent, he offered, “Rob, Ivan. I want you both to know, that I spent all of last night, coming to terms with the man that I was then, and the man that I am now. I cannot say that I’m proud of that man, then or now.  I have much too much to deal with… on my own.”

Wilhelm paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “But know, that neither of you have anything further to be concerned about. My anger yesterday was directed solely at myself. Nothing like that will ever happen again, I promise you.”

Both Ivan and Rob began talking again, but this time it came out a jumbled mess.

Wilhelm held up a hand. “Please, let me continue.”

Both men felt silent.

“My only wish… is that we can move on, and forget yesterday. It was entirely my fault, neither of you did anything to provoke that outburst.” Wilhelm paused, turned, and took a seat in the chair in front of Ivan’s desk. Glancing at the floor he asked, “But, if you don’t mind, I would like to know the answers to a few questions I have after having read the book.”

Wilhelm looked up into the eyes of his companions, as an uncontrolled surge of embarrassment flustered him.  Suddenly shaking his head, upon seeing the anxiousness in Rob and Ivan’s eyes, he offered quickly, “No, never mind, I’m sorry. It’s inappropriate of me to ask anything of you. You were both doing your duty then, that is all the explanation I should need to know.”

Wilhelm got up to walk out, but something inside stopped him as he turned to make his escape. Taking a deep breath, he turned back to face the other men. “But, I…”

Rob stepped forward saying, “Wilhelm, what I told you yesterday still holds today. I said that you could say what you need to, to us.” Rob with a sweeping arm movement that included Ivan in the ‘us’, and continued, “That means you can ask us anything you need to as well.” Rob paused, sighed, and then putting his hand to Wilhelm shoulder he said, “I promise that we will answer honestly, but I want to preface our answers before we begin.”

Rob released his hold of the man’s shoulder, stood back and offered, “Wilhelm, I can honestly say that I feel you’ve become a friend to me. And as your friend, I want desperately to say – and you don’t know how desperately – that I apologize for everything that happened to you because of my operation. But as an officer, I can not, because I know within my heart that I would do the same thing over again, if I had too.”

“Please Rob,” Wilhelm replied. “I understand that. I would never blame you or Ivan for doing your duty as you saw it. And I have tried to come to terms with my place in all of that. I just have a few questions. I promise that I will never take umbrage to your answers. It is only from myself that I should take offense, as I brought it all on… by myself.”

“Okay, so, ah, let’s go in my office, and you can ask your questions,” Rob stated, with a sweeping hand motion toward his door.

Watching as Ivan got up to follow Rob toward the Governor’s office, Wilhelm hedged, “I did not mean for this talk to happen now Governor. I know you have a full schedule. This can wait, it is not that important.”

“Well it just so happens, the Governor’s schedule is clear,” Kinch offered knowing that he had spent the early morning hours clearing that schedule. Neither he nor Rob knew how Wilhelm was going to react to the book after yesterday’s outburst, and they wanted be available in case something unforeseen should happen.

“Well, I’d say we have time then,” Rob continued, a little anxious about the questions Wilhelm wanted answered, but knowing that he had made the decision, all those months ago at Stalag 13, not to lie to Wilhelm any more. So I’m not going to begin again now.

Wilhelm preceded both men into the Governor’s office and took a seat on the couch in the far left corner. Rob and Ivan followed his lead and took seats in the armchairs facing the couch. All three men sat in silence, waiting for the other to begin.

Finally Wilhelm started, “Before I ask my questions, I’d like to try and explain myself to you.” Sighing, Wilhelm continued, “I was taken completely by surprise yesterday. You see, not once did I ever see anything more than your men, sorry Ivan, you and Wilson, being forced to make that tour. I realize that I was hiding from things, but I was enraged, because I knew, right then and there, that I would never have seen that tour for what it truly was… no matter how hard I tried.”

Wilhelm got up and starting pacing. “And that just made me livid, but livid at my own ineptitude. It was never meant to be an attack on either of you.”

Wilhelm stopped pacing and came to face Rob. “I will admit to you now though, that many of the strange things that happened during that time, I willingly ignored.” After a short breath, Wilhelm offered sarcastically, “Such as new boots being delivered by Leprechauns…”

At Rob’s guilty and surprised gaze, Wilhelm almost laughed. “Most things like that, I never had issue with, if it meant that life was made easier for you and your men. Yes, that meant that somehow you had outside contact, but I only assumed, in my tunnel vision, that to be local contact through the guards or the farmers.”

Wilhelm turned away. “And then after you disclosed your full operation to me… I finally admitted that there were very many more things, in hindsight, that I could relate to you and your operation. So many incidents of which I still have no proof of how you accomplished it… except only for your admission of complicity.”

Wilhelm returned to his place on the couch. “You see, I had thought that I had dealt with all that personally, until yesterday, when I read the phrase ‘Papa Bear’s 200th mission’ on the back of your book, Ivan.” Wilhelm sighed. “Please tell me, were there really that many? Really that many, that I never even had the merest notion that they occurred?”

Rob offered quietly, “Wilhelm, I’m sorry. I’m going to repeat what Ivan said to me yesterday when I asked him whether Operation Boxing Day was our 200th mission.” Rob sighed, “Ivan’s response was, word for word…‘
It was actually our 200th sabotage mission. We conveniently left the espionage, the people moving, and the miscellaneous unexplainable event… out of the count.’” Rob paused, and then said only, “I’m sorry Wilhelm.”

“No, don’t be sorry,” Wilhelm replied. “I think I asked that question, already expecting that answer.”

Wilhelm cleared a frog from his throat and continued, “Well then, I hope you can answer my next… question. I’ve hidden much guilt over this, to the point that I no longer recognized it as guilt, until last night. I had hoped in reading Ivan’s book that I would have found what I was looking for, but that did not happen. Yet I feel, somehow, that you can still help me.”

Wilhelm looked deep into the gaze of his companions, and asked, “Do you know what happened to Karl Langenscheidt? I tried to find him after that raid, but everywhere I looked, I came upon a dead end. The young man was alone, with no family, and no one to look after him. Not that I could have done much for him… I just should have done more in finding him.”

The startled gaze of both men gave Wilhelm part of the answer he was looking for, so he continued anxiously, “Is he all right? Do you know where he is?”

Ivan was the one to respond, “Wilhelm, this time it’s my explanation. Karl saved Edgar’s and my life, when, instead of heading to a bunker with the rest of the Germans after the raid started, he came to release us, from where we were being held, handcuffed together, in our home away from home, a truck, that was parked smack dab in the middle of the Rengersbrunn compound. Only none of us made it out of that truck unscathed. You know what happened to Edgar and me. Well Karl took a real bad hit, and lost a leg in that raid. He was immediately shuttled to the nearest aid battalion, and we, as you know, got shoved into that torture chamber of a hospital.”

Ivan got up to pace. “When we got back to Stalag 13, I asked Rob to help find Karl and get him out of Germany. With almost two months of daily contact with Karl, I got to learn a lot about him. And I just couldn’t leave him out there alone.” Ivan turned and faced Wilhelm. “And that’s what Rob did… rescued him, and eventually moved him to London.”

Rob interrupted, “Wilhelm, Karl spent almost five weeks in the tunnels under Stalag 13 before he was well enough to travel. We sent him on his way, almost to the day that Ivan was released from the infirmary.”

Wilhelm shook his head in self-contempt, trying to keep more of that internal rage at bay, and just barely managed to ask, “Do you know what happened to him after getting to London? Is there a way to find out?”

“Oh Wilhelm,” Ivan sighed. “For what I’m going to tell you next, you probably deserve to shoot me. Actually I was surprised that Rob didn’t yesterday when he found out.”

“What do you mean?” Wilhelm blurted out.

Ivan retrieved Operation Boxing Day from the small lamp table beside Rob’s chair, where the General had placed in upon entering the office. Showing it to Wilhelm Klink, Ivan pointed at the name of Kyle Langley. “That’s him Wilhelm. Kyle Langley is Karl Langenscheidt. He’s doing well, living and working in San Francisco. Granted he walks with a prosthesis, but he does walk. And he’s happy, working for the San Francisco Gazette.”

“Oh,” was all Wilhelm could say, as too much anger, guilt, sorrow, and relief were tearing him apart from inside.

“Wilhelm, I’m sorry that I…,” Rob began.

Wilhelm held up a hand, and said sternly still trying to bring his internal turmoil under control, “You have nothing to be sorry for.” He sighed and after a short pause, continued, “I’m glad Karl, sorry Kyle, is doing well. He deserves happiness. Thank you both for doing what you did for him.”

Wilhelm got up and walked across the room to stand far away from the other two men. “My next question is my last, but I’m afraid the answer to this one will hurt me more than any of the others could.” After a pause, Wilhelm sighed, “Can you tell me where Hans Schultz fits in your operation? To read, last night, that Hans had let your men go along with him to retrieve Ivan and Wilson…” Wilhelm paused to shake his head. “I am devastated to learn that he was able to keep that from me. I had always thought of him as a kind and gentle soul, never making waves, never wanting to see, or know, the bad things of the world. But to think he was part of your operation… it just doesn’t make sense to me. How could that be?”

Rob got up and walked over to Wilhelm, “He was not part of our operation, at least not openly a part of it. He was indeed what he appeared to be. A kinder, gentler soul, I don’t think we could have found. I was just able to use that to our advantage. Admittedly I was never sure why he was hiding from the war, but his hiding helped us. And Hell, he cared about my guys like they were his own children. To get him to take help along to retrieve Ivan and Edgar wasn’t all that hard to do.” Rob sighed. “It wasn’t until that day you left Stalag 13 for Leipzig that Hans told me of the choices he made during the war.”

At Wilhelm’s expectant gaze, Rob shook his head negatively. “I’m sorry Wilhelm. It’s not my place to tell you. I will not put words in Hans’s mouth. Just know that he had his reasons for being as non-confrontational as possible. But I’d prefer he tell you of those reasons.”

Wilhelm raised his hands to cover his face. Rubbing his eyes, he finally said, “As you wish.” Walking back to the couch, he sat once more. “Thank you for your honesty. I have much to think about.”

“Is there anything else you want to know?” Rob asked quietly.

“No, I’ve learned quite enough for one day,” Wilhelm sighed. “But I would like to know that if I have more questions, that I can ask them of you in the future. As it is right now, I still have to come to terms with whether I even wanted the answers to the questions I asked today.”

“My door is always open,” Rob offered and went to sit by Wilhelm’s side on the couch. “I’m not sure I’ve ever said this to you before… I know you are feeling beaten up right now, and I know I can’t make that go away completely. It’s just that you need to know that the only reason we got to take advantage… was because you and Hans are decent human beings, who were trying hard not to spill the blood of anyone, not the least of which was the blood that belonged to my men and me. I can apologize again, as a friend, for taking advantage, but honestly, I should just thank you for being a better man than I.”

Wilhelm just looked skeptically into Rob’s face.

“Okay, so you don’t believe me,” Rob stated flatly. “But if there is one thing that I’m certain about… it’s that when the time comes and the Lord calls either of us home, you’ll have a place by his side. As for me, I’m sure the Almighty won’t even give me the time of day. I’ve killed too many Wilhelm… I’ve lost heaven. You, on the other hand, have done nothing to be ashamed of. You’ll have your revenge on me then, and I’ll gladly let you be the victor.”
Thirty-nine years later…

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light,
and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.
Our life is a long and arduous quest after truth
and the soul requires inward restfulness to attain its full height.
Mahatma Gandhi

Palm Springs, California,
Rancho Mirage Villas, Room 202,
August 15, 1984, 08:15 Local Time

Wilhelm Klink sat staring off the balcony of his villa, enjoying the view of the Agua Calente Indian Reservation, just a short distance from the Rancho Mirage Villas where he’d been living for the last month. Well Erika…today is the last full day that Rob and Ivan will be visiting. I guess it’s time to get down to business. But it’s been so enjoyable just spending time with them. A most wonderful way to spend one’s last days. I’m so sorry that you never got to see Palm Springs with me, love. I miss you so. But it’s everything that we ever imagined. We’ll be happy here for eternity Erika, don’t you worry. An aged Wilhelm, slowly and gingerly, rose carrying a beautiful, shiny, black Chinese etched box that contained the remains of his wife of 31 years. He returned the box to the mantle above the faux fireplace in the living room of his rented villa, as he expected his guests to wake soon. Neither man knew what was in the box at this point. But they will by the end of today…we have so much to discuss, and not that much time left to do so…

Wilhelm made a tentative turn from the mantle when he heard one of the bedroom doors open. He wanted only to laugh though, as he watched Rob Hogan almost stumbling from his bedroom, yawning, and running his hands through his stark white hair. “Good morning Rob,” Wilhelm offered with a smirk. “Sleep well?”

Aged, and hung over, only a groan of pain escaped Rob, who took his hands and rubbed his face to clear his eyes of sleepies. “So you think you’re funny, huh? I haven’t drunk that much in years. I’m just glad I didn’t end up in a coma after last night.” Rob looked up into his friend’s eyes, “So how come you’re so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning?”

“Ah,” Wilhelm laughed. “I had a two-week head start on you. I learned quickly that in America, if you are willing to spend money, people will bend over backwards for it. Between the staff at the Palms Springs Country Club and the staff at the Lawrence Welk Desert Country Club both vying for my ‘lifetime’ membership, I had to stop indulging myself soon after I arrived, or I’d be the one in a coma. And what would I get out of a lifetime membership then.”

With a resigned and somewhat sad sigh, Rob offered, “Wilhelm, I don’t know why you’re even…”

“I know what you’re going to say Rob,” Wilhelm interrupted sternly. “Why would an old man be spending his money that way? You know that I’ve never indulged much in material things. It’s just that I wanted to try it one time, before I’m no longer able. And at my age, eh, what else am I going to spend my money on.”

“But…” Rob started, but never got to finish the thought.

“No buts,” Wilhelm said evenly. “You have had a good time, as my guest at both places, yes?”

“Yes,” Rob acquiesced.

“Good,” Wilhelm replied. “That is all that matters, except that I will need your help to decide which country club to choose. I have only until the end of the month to decide.”

“I’d go with Lawrence Welk,” Ivan offered stifling a yawn as he too exited his bedroom rather unsteadily. “Can’t go wrong with Lawrence Welk.”

“I’m sure that opinion has nothing to do with the fact that that pretty young waitress was paying particular attention to you all day,” Rob smirked. “Does it?”

“Don’t be ridiculous Rob,” Ivan replied defensively. “I could be her grandfather. I actually think the service, the food, and the ambiance were much better at the Lawrence Welk Desert Country Club, really.”

“Thank you Ivan,” Wilhelm interjected. “I feel the same way as well. I guess my decision is made then.”

“So do we get to go back today and tell them,” Ivan proposed with a smirk, thinking about that pretty young thing that had catered to his every whim yesterday.

“Eh Wilhelm,” Rob asked incredulously. “What are we going to do with this one, 70 years young, and still an active libido?”

Wilhelm smiled, “I think we should make a call to Melinda, and see how fast our Casanova changes his tune.”

Rob came up behind Wilhelm, patted him on the shoulder, and laughed agreeing, “Good idea, so where’s your phone?”

“Eh,” Ivan said turning away from his friends with a dismissive wave of his hand. “You guys are no fun at all.” Ivan headed carefully toward the bathroom. “So what are the plans for today then?” he asked as he started to close the door behind him.

Wilhelm’s tone quickly became serious, “I had hoped to spend a quiet day here. It is your last day and all. I wanted to talk to you about something important. If that’s all right with you both, of course?”

Rob turned to look at his longtime friend, concerned for the change in his demeanor, but said only, “Of course.”

Ivan stopped before closing the bathroom door, turned back to also glance at his friend, and said, “Whatever you want Wilhelm.”

“Good, good,” Wilhelm offered after realizing he had just made his friends extremely nervous with his pronouncement. “We can talk later. Now go. Both of you get dressed. I’ve got a catered breakfast coming.” Wilhelm laughed. “And you both certainly look like you could use some coffee.” Still looking into his friend’s worried faces, he ordered determinedly, “really, go!” as a way to break the tension that seemed to be building. “It’d be a shame to waste such a beautiful morning!”

Both Ivan and Rob almost jumped at the command, and both quickly and quietly took their leave of Wilhelm. Rob to his bedroom, and Ivan to the bathroom.

Wilhelm just sighed, not having wanted to make either of them anxious, but he supposed that they knew, as well as he, that there wasn’t all that many important things a 90-year-old man might want to discuss. Death and taxes… isn’t that the phrase? Only Rob and Ivan don’t know the half of it. Actually, come to think of it, everything I want to talk to them about concerns death… and only death.

After breakfast…

Wilhelm finally broached his concerns, because the silence that had fallen in the room, after the small talk around the breakfast table ended, was wearing on his friend’s nerves. “Well Rob, Ivan. I’m sorry to have put a damper on your last day. But I hope you’ll understand my need to talk to you.”

“Of course, “ Rob offered, “say whatever you need to say.”

Wilhelm got up from the table, and went to retrieve the Erika’s urn from the mantle. After returning to the table, he sat with a sigh, and explained, “I guess the first thing I need to ask you both for, is a favor.” At his friend’s curious gaze, he offered, slowly caressing the box in front of him, “You see, this here, are Erika’s remains.”

Caught by a sudden wave of grief, Wilhelm fell silent, and had to wipe his eyes with a handkerchief from his pocket. “Please Rob Ivan, forgive me. I’m so sorry. It just that I still miss her so.”

Rob reached over and patted him on the shoulder. “We understand. It hasn’t been all that long. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost Beth. Just take your time.”

Wilhelm sighing raised the hanky to his face and blew his nose. “Yes, well,” he said still trying composing himself, but plowing ahead anyway. “The favor I need… is for you both to be executors of my will. It will not be hard, as I have everything organized. It will just be easier for someone here in the United States, than for Han’s son Alfred, back in Germany.”

With tears coming to his eyes once more, Wilhelm sighed and shook his head. “Han’s children are so, so very angry with me. They all think that I’ve lost my mind, moving here, and leaving everything else behind. And if I know them well, they have already talked to you both. Am I right?”

At the guilty glances of his friends, Wilhelm got up, taking Erika with him, and walked over to the balcony of his villa and gazed out at the Indian reservation. “But you see, Rob, Ivan… I’m not crazy… I had always promised Erika that we would come to Palm Springs one day, only things were forever getting in the way.”

Turning back to his friends, he continued with his explanation, “So I came here to keep my promise. You see, when I die, I want Erika’s and my ashes to be scattered on the Agua Calente Indian Reservation.” He pointed back toward the balcony. “I‘ve done much searching for the proper setting since I first got here, and the reservation is a most spectacular location. Its Lupine Ridge overlooks such an incredible vista known as Black Hawk Canyon… so much of which Erika would have enjoyed.”

“Wilhelm,” Ivan interjected. “You need special permission to do what you’re asking. We can’t just…”

“Ah,” Wilhelm began with a smile. “You too, think that I have lost my mind.” Walking back towards his friends, he smirked as he reached the table. “I am not feeble minded, not yet anyway. I have made all the arrangements. As I said to Rob earlier… in America, if you wish to spend money, Americans will bend over backwards to get it.”

“But Wilhelm…” Rob started, but actually couldn’t think of any real objection.

“I had hoped there would be not buts, Rob,” Wilhelm said sadly. “I just wanted you both to know my plans, so that when the time comes, things would go smoothly. As I said, everything has been planned to the minutest detail. All the paperwork for the disposition of my assets in Germany, and for everything that needs to be settled here is in a lockbox in my bedroom under the bed. You have nothing you need do but oversee my wishes. I have even contracted a lawyer to aid you as well.”

Rob stood, and placed a hand on Wilhelm’s shoulder. “Everything will be fine Wilhelm. I’m sure Erika will be happy with your choices. And I promise I’ll take care of everything. Please don’t worry.”

“That goes for me too,” Ivan agreed as well, also standing and putting his hand to Wilhelm’s arm.

“Thank you both, so very much,” Wilhelm offered. “You don’t know what this means to me. But, I have one more concern. I don’t want anything to happen to Erika’s ashes. They will be on the mantle always. I want only you to handle them. Please make certain no one moves them when the time comes.”

“Don’t worry,” Rob assured. “We won’t let anything happen to Erika.”

“Good, good,” Wilhelm sighed. “Such a weight off my chest.”

“You know Wilhelm,” Rob assured. “You didn’t have to go to this much trouble, bringing us here… paying for our visit.  Not that we haven’t had a wonderful time getting together. But you could have asked us that anytime. Neither of us would have ever said no.”

“Oh I know that Rob,” Wilhelm replied. “But you see, that wasn’t the only reason I wanted you both to be here.” Wilhelm began to walk away from the table. “You see I have a question to ask. A question I should have asked you both thirty-nine years ago. Only I couldn’t bring myself too.” He turned back toward his long time friends, and reminded them both of their long ago promise. “You both remember I hope, that you agreed that I could always ask you more about your intelligence operation in the future.” Wilhelm exhaled. “Well I have decided that now is as good a time as any… to ask this question.”

Rob fell back heavily into his seat glancing anxiously at Ivan, and then completely flustered, having thought the three of them had gotten way beyond this point, asked, “What’s your question?”

“Well to begin…” Wilhelm started quickly, hoping to just get the explanation out. “I want to start off by acknowledging the fact that I do know intellectually that if at any time during the war, I had gotten in the way of your operation, that my life would have been forfeit. That is the way of war and I can accept that.” Wilhelm sighed. “But you see, I still remember how oblivious I was to your ministrations and I accept that as my fault alone. I just want to know if there was ever a time, or maybe even more than one time, that my death would have better suited your plans than my position as Kommandant had?”

Wilhelm took a deep breath, and continued determinedly. “I want to know how close the gun came to my head without me ever realizing that it was there. And I do not want to hear about that last month or so of the war, I was well aware of my position then.”

Wilhelm sat back down at the table and waited for an answer. When all he got was silent and guilty looks from his companions in return, he said, “Ah, so there was a time…”

“Wilhelm,” Rob blurted out. “I…”

“No matter Rob,” Wilhelm assured quickly, trying to convince himself that a yes or no was all the answer he really wanted, and that he no longer had any interest in hearing the gory details of his long ago brush with death. “Since it seems that I’m still here, I can again thank you for my life.”

“Wilhelm,” Rob persisted. “Please, your question just took me by surprise. It’s not quite what you think, although I will admit to you that your elimination was an option that was discussed at one point, but only at one point, and was quickly dismissed.”  Rob fell silent at the look in the still questioning eyes of his long ago former enemy and then guiltily continued, “I will tell you the story, if you really want to hear it?”

Wilhelm couldn’t help himself and blurted out, “Please,” almost before he made any conscious thought.

“Well first,” Rob began. “You need to know that Ivan wasn’t involved in any of it. Ironically it all happened while he, Edgar, and Karl were out on that boxing tour.” A pang of guilt hit Rob when he remembered worrying about how he would be able to keep track of his men without Klink around. “It all started when a Luftwaffe Colonel named Becker, the Kommandant of some POW camp at the Russian Front, showed up with General Burkhaulter. He was making a stopover on his way to Berlin to offer the plans for the new Luftwaffe offensive in Stalingrad.” 

Rob looked questioningly at Wilhelm to see if he remembered the incident.

“Ah,” Wilhelm said evenly, remembering the incident quite well. “That was when I convinced General Burkhaulter to transfer me to the Russian Front. And Colonel Becker was to be my replacement.” Not something easily forgotten.

Wilhelm sighed when the true picture became clear, though. Shaking his head he offered, “Only it was not really I that convinced General Burkhaulter, was it?” Wilhelm stood and wandered from the table. “What a fool I was, listening to your diatribe on the wonders that existed at the Russian Front.” Wilhelm turned back and unemotionally asked, “The girl? The pictures? All your doing?”

Klink sighed recognizing the guilt in his friend’s eyes. He continued quickly, before Rob could respond. “Can I ask what you expected to gain from Colonel Becker as Kommandant instead of me? Honestly he never seemed that he’d be easily fooled.”

“Actually,” Rob continued. “There was to be no real gain. Becker somehow knew too much about my operation or at least suspected too much about it. He propositioned me. I would get his papers for the Stalingrad offensive, if I could get him transferred to Stalag 13 as Kommandant.” Rob exhaled. “After that, I was not sure what was to happen. But since the Allies could always use those plans, I did what I could to get them.” Rob paused as a double pang of guilt hit, when he realized for the first time that Ivan, Edgar, and Karl would never have survived the war if Becker had actually gotten to takeover Stalag 13. It’s just that everything happened so fast…

“I see,” Wilhelm offered, still unemotionally, almost as if he were hearing all of it from an historical point of view, and not as something that would have affected him personally. “So, Becker was blackmailing you. I can at least accept that as a reason for what you did, but transferring me was not quite the explanation from you I was looking for. Certainly I’m no longer stupid enough to believe I would have survived the Front, and my death would have probably have come soon after I arrived.”  Wilhelm surprisingly seemed quite accepting of that explanation. “I suppose, that if that was the worse you had planned for me, I can live with that knowledge.”

“Wilhelm?” Rob said very quietly. “I’m sorry, that’s not the whole story.”

Wilhelm plunked himself on the closet chair with a sigh. Looking up into Rob’s eyes he asked, “So what more is there to know? All I remember after that is the motorcycle accident that convinced General Burkhaulter I was no longer fit to be at the Russian Front.” Wilhelm paused as he again saw things in that new light. “The accident was your doing? Why? After getting the plan all set up?”

Wilhelm shook his head in disbelief. “Come to think of it, I never saw Becker again that morning, until you came to me and told me he was inspecting the mines I had planted outside the wire… and of course then the explosion occurred, conveniently removing Becker from the picture.”

“Wilhelm listen,” Rob tried to clarify. “Right before you were scheduled to leave, Becker came to me and waffled on our deal. His plan was to disrupt my operation in anyway he could, once he found out more about it. I probably never should have trusted him in the first place. Anyway, he had come by himself to barracks two with that threat. And we conveniently showed him the way to London, minus his uniform that we blew up with your mine.”

Wilhelm interrupted bewildered, “And then you decided that it might do you well to see me die in a motorcycle accident? I cannot accept that as a threat to my life either. It was my saving grace as I see it.”

“Wilhelm please,” Rob almost begged. “There’s more.”

At Wilhelm’s silent nod of acceptance, Rob continued with his explanation, “Honestly Wilhelm, I was caught in a dilemma when I decided to convince you to get yourself transferred to the Russian Front. And then when you decided that Hans had to go with you… you forced a decision from me.” Rob sighed. “At first, I had tried to convince myself that you alone might find a way to survive the Russian Front. But I knew Hans never would survive. And in tandem, I’m sorry, I could only see your, and his, certain demise.”

“And your dilemma was?” Wilhelm asked.

“I had only three options,” Rob explained. “I could let you go and face what I expected would be a fairly gruesome death at the Russian Front, or I could have had the job done rather expertly, and more humanely, by my contacts after you both left Stalag 13.”

Wilhelm just asked quietly, “And your third option?”

“Was ultimately,” Rob continued, “the option I had decided to go with. Although at first, I wasn’t sure how humane spending the rest of the war, or for that matter spending the rest of your lives, in solitary confinement would compare to a quick death. You see I did owe you a great deal for the success of my operation. But I also had no guarantee from the powers that be in London that anyone, but my men and I, would ever know that our operation existed. I feared that you’d both be lost forever in the red tape that would be put in place to keep it concealed.”

“But,” Wilhelm prompted.

“But,” Rob offered. “I decided to bank on life being the better option.” Rob paused. “Anyway, that’s why we crashed the motorcycle after getting rid of Becker. You see, the plans were all set for my contacts to kidnap you and Hans. They were to return you to us, so we could send you off to London and that possible life in prison. Sabotaging the motorcycle was the only way I could think of to keep you in camp, because I knew getting word to my contacts of the change in plans would have been impossible in the short time span and with the mines you planted.”
“So,” Wilhelm confronted, with an uncontrolled surge of anger from within. “I have no proof then, other than your word, that you had indeed chosen life over death for myself and Hans. Because easily, as I see it, any of those options could have still played itself out if Becker hadn’t pushed his luck.” 

“I guess that’s true,” Rob agreed, a little worried that his friendship with Wilhelm, after all this time, was on dangerous ground. “I only hope that, after all this time, you feel you can trust my word.”

After looking intently into his long time friend’s eyes, Wilhelm offered an apology, knowing that it was he who had started this whole conversation, and he had no right to be angry. “Please Rob, forgive me,” he beseeched. “I only asked that question to assuage the curiosity of an old man who knew he would not have to live long with the answer. Please know, that I trust your word… explicitly. And know, that for many years, I have trusted you with my life. Just as today, I have trusted you with my death.”
Only a short three months later…
On a cool
, but sunny, November afternoon…

Robert Hogan stood facing the small group of family and friends that had gathered to pay their final respects to Wilhelm and Erika Klink. “Wilhelm asked that there be no eulogy, and I will respect that wish. His only desire was that we enjoy with him and Erika the spot chosen as their final resting place, from here, high up on Lupine Ridge.”

Rob fell silent, sighed, and rustled the paper in his hand as if trying to find the courage to continue, “Wilhelm only wanted this poem, called Lupine Ridge by Peggy Simson Curry, read before we committed his and Erika’s ashes to the depths of Black Hawk Canyon. Please bear with me as I read this, as poetry was never a strong point of mine. I can almost see Wilhelm and Erika’s laughing eyes watching me struggle with this…”
Long after we are gone,
Summer will stroke this ridge in blue;
The hawk still flies above the flowers,
Thinking, perhaps, the sky has fallen
And back and forth forever he may trace
His shadow on its azure face.

Long after we are gone,
Evening wind will languish here
Between the lupine and the sage
To die a little death upon the earth,
As though over the sundown prairies fell
A requiem from a bronze-tongued bell.

Long after we are gone,
This ridge will shape the night,
Lifting the wine-streaked west,
Shouldering the stars.  And always here
Lovers will walk under the summer skies
Through flowers the color of your eyes.

Tears were evident in Rob Hogan’s eyes as he looked up at the small group in front of him. Saying nothing more though, he just nodded to Ivan for help with Wilhelm and Erika’s remains.  Together they carried their friends’ ashes to the edge of Lupine Ridge, silently opened both urns, and gently scattered those ashes so they intermingled and floated together to the bottom of Black Hawk Canyon.

“Rest in peace, Wilhelm,” Rob said only loud enough for Ivan to hear. “It’s time to take your rightful place at the Lord’s side. Victory is yours, my friend.”
The End

Thanks for Reading
Patti and Marg

Author’s Note One:

In writing Shell Game, we arbitrarily chose November 20, 1945 as the date to begin our story. Honestly, we chose that date, only because that date worked well in our continuing character development for Rob and Beth Hogan, as it would be just about the time that Beth could announce her pregnancy. But what was fascinating… was, that as an aside, we chose to look at “This Day in History”. 

And this is what we found…

This Day In History | World War II
November 20, 1945 Nuremberg war-crimes trials begin

On this day in 1945, a series of trials of accused Nazi war criminals, conducted by a U.S., French, and Soviet military tribunal based in Nuremberg, Germany, begins. Twenty-four former Nazi officials were tried, and when it was all over, one year later, half would be sentenced to death by hanging.

These trials of accused war criminals were authorized by the London Agreement, signed in August 1945 by the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the provisional government of France. It was agreed at that time that those Axis officials whose war crimes extended beyond a particular geographic area would be tried by an international war tribunal (a trial for accused Japanese war criminals would be held in Tokyo). Nineteen other nations would eventually sign on to the provisions of the agreement.

The charges against the 24 accused at Nuremberg were as follows: (1) crimes against peace, that is, the planning and waging of wars that violated international treaties; (2) crimes against humanity, that is, the deportation, extermination, and genocide of various populations; (3) war crimes, that is, those activities that violated the "rules" of war that had been laid down in light of the First World War and later international agreements; and (4) conspiracy to commit any and all of the crimes listed in the first three counts.

The tribunal had the authority to find both individuals and organizations criminal; in the event of the latter, individual members of that organization could then be tried. Each of the four original signatories of the London Agreement picked one member and an alternate to sit on the tribunal. The chief prosecutor was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who was asked by President Harry S. Truman to create a structure for the proceedings. The defendants were arrayed in two rows of seats; each of the indicted listened to a simultaneous translation of the arguments through a headset.

There were 216 court sessions. On October 1, 1946, verdicts on 22 of the 24 defendants were handed down (two were not present; one had committed suicide in his prison cell, another was ultimately deemed mentally unfit): 12 of the defendants were sentenced to be hanged, including Julius Streicher (propagandist), Alfred Rosenberg (anti-Semitic ideologue and minister of the occupied eastern territories), Joachim von Ribbentrop (foreign affairs minister), Martin Bormann (Nazi Party secretary), and Herman Goering (Luftwaffe commander and Gestapo head). Ten of the 12 were hanged on October 16. Bormann was tried and sentenced in absentia (he was thought to have died trying to escape Hitler's bunker at the close of the war, but was only declared officially dead in 1973). Goering committed suicide before he could be hanged. The rest of the defendants received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life. All of the defenses offered by the accused were rejected, including the notion that only a state, not an individual, could commit a war crime proper.

Excerpted from

Author’s Note Two:

What really is
Boxing Day?

The day after Christmas Day is known as Boxing Day, after the tradition of opening the alms boxes placed in churches over the Christmas season. The contents were distributed amongst the poor of the parish. December 26 is also known as the Feast of St. Stephen. It is often a day of outdoor sports and horse racing and hunting. Only in the last century however has it become a holiday. By having Christmas Day and Boxing Day as holidays this allowed many people to take trips but also rejoin family members, which may have encouraged the tradition of families getting together at Christmas time.

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Author’s Note Three:

The Shell Game’s Allure?

At the end of the 1800s one of the best-known shell men in the United States was Jim Miner, also known as Umbrella Jim. He used to introduce his game with a wonderful little song, thankfully recorded in Gambling and Gambling Devices by John Phillip Quinn (a reformed gambler), which went as follows:

A little fun, just now and then.
Is relished by the best of men.
If you have nerve, you may have plenty;
Five, draws you ten, and ten draws twenty.
Attention giv’n, I’ll show to you,
How umbrellas hide the peek-a-boo.
Select your shell, the one you choose;
If right, you win, if not, you lose;
The game itself is lots of fun,
Jim’s chances though, are two to one;
And I tell you that your chance is slim
To win a prize from ‘Umbrella Jim’!

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Author’s Note Four:

To Marylinusca…

Long ago, Marylinusca innocently asked us, in a review, why Ivan Kinchloe did not appear in our story called, “It’s a Wonderful Game”. Well it took us a very long time to answer. Kinch appeared in neither, “It’s a Wonderful life”, which took place in the wee early morning hours of Christmas Day, 1944, nor in our story, “Games Scrooges Play”, which began on Christmas Day, 1944, and ended in the early morning hours of Boxing Day, 1944.

Ivan Kinchloe returned to duty for the first time in close to four months, late on Boxing Day 1944, December 26th, after recovering completely from the injuries detailed in our story, “Shell Game”. Or maybe we should say detailed in his story, Operation Boxing Day.

Text and original characters copyright 2004 by Margaret Bryan, Patti Hutchins

This copyright covers only  original material and characters, and in no way intends to infringe upon the privileges of the holders of the copyrights, trademarks, or other legal rights, for the Hogan's Heroes universe.